With Iran’s Help, Iraq Slaughters Sunnis under the Guise of Punishing Islamic State

Jan. 14 2019

Having reclaimed most of the territory once held by Islamic State (IS), the Iraqi government has before it the daunting prospect of jailing and punishing the jihadists who terrorized its people; many Iraqis, moreover, are understandably eager to see evidence of retribution. But Baghdad’s security forces, working in cooperation with Iran-backed militias, are in many cases simply rounding up Sunni Muslims for imprisonment and execution. In other cases, the militias have massacred civilians and raped women whose only crime was living under IS rule. Ben Taub writes:

Not long ago, I met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official who is deeply involved in counterterrorism operations. For three hours, over tea and cigarettes, he described systematic criminality within the security forces, detailing patterns of battlefield executions, murders in detention centers, and coverups organized by the state. . . .

He believes that the Iraqi government’s response is as much a tactical blunder as it is a moral one; it plays directly into the jihadists’ narrative—namely, that Sunnis, who make up a minority of the Iraqi population, cannot live safely under a government dominated by Shiites. “The reaction is one of vengeance—it is not well thought out,” he told me. “We rarely abide by the law.” Thousands of men and boys have been convicted of IS affiliation, and hundreds have been hanged. And . . . these cases represent only a small fraction of the total number of detainees, [most of whom have not had even pro-forma trials]. . . .

The ground campaign to take back Mosul [from IS] began in earnest in the fall of 2016. Until then, Iraq’s factions and militias had little incentive to cooperate [with each other]. Shiite paramilitary groups, some of which had carried out thousands of attacks against American troops in the previous decade, had mobilized to prevent IS from capturing Baghdad, but it was another two years before the Iraqi government integrated them into the armed forces. It was a Faustian bargain; the most powerful militias, which are collectively known as the Hashd al-Shaabi, are trained, equipped, and funded by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, and have a reputation for carrying out the kinds of sectarian abuses that had led many Sunnis to welcome the jihadists in Mosul. . . .

[In the] Nineveh province, civilians who had fled IS at the outset, in 2014, were asked by Kurdish and Iraqi intelligence officers to inform on neighbors who had assisted it. The names were then entered into databases of terrorism suspects, available to Iraqi security branches, including the Hashd militias. As the war dragged on, the lists became increasingly unreliable. People reported their enemies, and wielded the threat of denunciation in personal, tribal, and workplace disputes. . . . [S]ome Hashd fighters ran an extortion racket, demanding thousands of dollars from civilians and adding their names to the terrorism database if they couldn’t pay.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at New Yorker

More about: Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Politics & Current Affairs, Shiites, Sunnis

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at New York Times

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East